Why is math so important?
That was the question many parents have heard that Nitin Agarwal was recently confronted with by his eight-year-old son as they worked together on homework. To be sure, the foundation of math that supported the web development that has spurred Agarwal’s entrepreneurial career is a good explanation.
As founder and CEO Motifworks, a nearly two-year old application development firm with offices in Rosedale in Baltimore County and Bangalore, India, Nitin, 36, says “right now at my son’s school, they’re teaching him addition and subtraction. But I’m teaching him multiplication and division, and three digit division.”
That interest in education has helped grow a local IT firm worth following.
His son’s question easily brings out Nitin’s technical skill as a trained engineer and also his thought-leadership persona rooted in his Loyola University Maryland MBA.
“As I told my son, math is like a foundation language. It’s a language for business, it’s a language for everything, just like English. Math is not exactly like biology or medical science, but math is the foundation for business. In business, you can convert that math into data. And then you can ask how can you make sense of the data, what other things can you do with the data. It’s about asking the right questions,” he says.
Nitin, who presented Motifworks at last September’s recent Tech Breakfast-Columbia, presents a near classic tech entrepreneur’s story wherein his own startup career has been rooted in a series of failures and smaller successes before hitting this latest, more sustained business growth.
In his home country of India, Nitin completed his undergraduate work in engineering and started his career in late 1990s with TCS , one of India’s biggest IT consulting firms. He then moved to the Baltimore area in 2002 to work as a software consultant, which eventually led him into a series of senior management positions with several technology product development firms.
While serving various IT day jobs, he tried launching several app services that have taught him a slew of lessons, he says:
- RangeelaPhotos: In 2004, Nitin’s first of his two sons was born – and during that time he realized there wasn’t a cost-effective way to send baby pictures to his parents in India. So he devised an online photo-sharing business called RangeelaPhotos to solve this problem for those with family and other connections in India. With his business partner in India, Nitin uploaded photos to a secure portal that were then printed out in India and delivered inexpensively via courier to client recipients. Nitin and his partner ran this company for more than two years before a patent infringement lawsuit and related legal issues forced the firm to close, Nitin said.
Yet Nitin, who still held a full-time job while working on his Loyola MBA, wasted little time in starting another venture with a new Austin-based business partner in 2008.
- Bar activity reporting app: Focusing on the hospitality industry, Nitin conceived of an online service to allow bar patrons to know how busy their favorite watering holes were. When this bar app idea failed due to issues with hardware implementation and overall costs, Nitin and his partner decided to pivot the idea.
- Restaurant waiting-time app: The pair started work on a mobile app focused on the restaurant space, one that would help patrons know of approximate wait times for tables at their preferred restaurants.
While working on this new app in 2010, the bottom nearly fell out for Nitin: he was laid off from his full-time job.
“That was a big turning point in my career. I was not prepared for it,” Nitin says. “Around this time, my wife was pregnant with our second child and I started interviewing, but my heart wasn’t in it. I said I’m not going to work for someone,” he adds.
At this point, Nitin rejoined with his Bangalore-based business partner and college pal and started a new laser-like focus on custom application development (mobile and web) for startups as well as software product companies. And thus was born
“Motifworks is a partner in emerging technology and innovation for business problem solvers. We work with companies as big as Microsoft and Sears and as small as one-person startups to help them make their product faster, get it out to the market quickly, at a lower cost, and with better features,” says Nitin.
Nitin says Motifworks so far has a 40-plus-person staff split between the U.S. and India (three full-timers and four contractors in Maryland, and another 35 fulltime in Bangalore).
Yet his growth and hiring plans remain flexible. For a new account with Sears, for example, Nitin was able to assemble a U.S.-based team ordered to deliver a specific technology product solution in four-months time.
“I hired one person in North Carolina, one in Atlanta, and one in Baltimore, and we delivered the product in less than three months,” Nitin says.
He says Motifworks is not looking for outside funders at this time, pledging to continue his company’s growth organically. He also says Baltimore is just about the best spot for him to be to grow Motifworks: “Baltimore is great for my size and for what I want to do. I’m inspired by the efforts to build our technology community.”
After relaying his entrepreneurial story, Nitin says he’s learned almost a lifetime’s worth of business lessons to share with others: “I learned a quote by Peter Drucker in business school, ‘Innovation and marketing are the two primary functions of the business, and every other function is secondary.’ I’m seeing it first hand. It’s about marketing. That includes your product, your positioning, your price, everything. How do you get out there? Why do people go to you? What is your product? Focusing on marketing is very important. And then part of marketing is how do you differentiate yourself,” says Nitin.
He also notes that selling is tough and adamantly asserts that everyone on an entrepreneur’s team must be a sales person. “If you’re building a business, even if you’re CEO, you have to be a sales guy,” he adds.
He also emphasizes getting advisors: “People who’ve done it before. They can help you bring your energy and focus into one direction,” says Nitin.